What’s Most Important for the Holidays?


My family’s ghosts of Christmases past would fill a barnyard. I suspect that hovering around the homestead still are the spirits of many, many animals that became dinner over the years. We’ve dined on standing rib roast and brisket, numerous turkeys, Lake Erie walleye – caught in the waters off my hometown in Ohio – and during one ambitious year, a duck. (It was terrible – my fault, I’m sure, because as a newlywed I was more optimistic than knowledgeable.)  

We’ve also taken short trips together around Christmas.  

More modern reading material for
our vegan holidays

But all that has changed. We’re in Florida. Our younger daughter is a vegan activist, and we’ll be dining at home. Although some of her animal rights tactics can be extreme, she is deadly serious about them. Not long ago she had to pick up a few things from the grocery store for her grandfather, who is 83. Buying eggs made her cry; she said we had no right to take the potential chicks from their mothers. Although I don’t have a problem with eggs, most of her anti-carnivorous ways have changed my behavior, too. 

The First (Vegan) Thanksgiving

Fortunately, I don’t think she remembers the holiday dinner that particularly haunts me. We lived in New Orleans at the time, and that year we joined the parade of folks trying the greatest food since French bread: the turducken. All these years later I can picture the skeletal remains of the turkey, duck and chicken joined at the wings, floating above the dining room and squawking at me something about why they had to die so the gluttonous humans could consume three birds at a time. 

Tiny ghosts of Christmas past: Buying shrimp at the Westwego
Seafood Market near New Orleans

Annabelle’s meat-free commitment has been going on for years, despite our assumptions when she was 19 that veganism was a passing fancy. She’s 24, and it isn’t. She even has a large vegan symbol tattoo now on the inside of her right arm.  

Vegan daughter Annabelle, left, demonstrating with her group, a local chapter of Anonymous for the Voiceless, in downtown Fort Myers, Florida. Wearing Guy Fawkes masks, group members hold screens showing videos of factory farms and slaughterhouses. They talk to people about the videos and animal rights if people approach them first.

So this year as in the past several, our Christmas dinner will look exactly like our Thanksgiving meal. We’ll dine on field roast, a ham-alike that in truth looks more like an overcooked pumpkin roll; canned corn with fake butter; baked sweet potatoes with the same fake butter; mashed potatoes with fake butter and almond milk; vegan bread; and the only recognizable side item, the already-vegan jellied cranberry sauce from a can. For dessert: vegan pumpkin pie at a pricey $30. 

An early Thanksgiving meal in October 2018 at Silver Dollar City, on the ‘Only in the Ozarks’ fam

That’s one of the problems of vegan dining: the expense. Doing the “right thing” has a cost. No grocery store is giving away a field roast with $50 worth of the week’s shopping.  

But in the season of Covid – and it’s been such a long one – I’ve been thinking about what’s important. It isn’t the gumbo we make now, a holdover from our Big Easy years. It isn’t even the mango chutney we make from the generous trees in our Florida yard. 

It isn’t about the cruise we took one holiday season and thought we’d take again someday. 

Our whole family may not even be together this season because of the C-word, but I do know what the holidays are about. It has nothing to do with turkey, field roast or cranberry sauce. It’s not about what ship we’re on or country we’re in. It’s about the fact that so far, we’re all OK. I’m so grateful for the health of my family and friends, while I hold onto hope of the same for other families. That’s what every day is about now. 

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